The world’s largest chipmaker, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), has announced a setback in its ambitious plans to begin 4nm chip production at its new facility in Phoenix, Arizona. The company now expects to commence production in 2025, as it faces labor shortages and other challenges in the United States. This delay is significant for tech giants like Apple, Nvidia, and AMD, who have pinned their hopes on sourcing chips from TSMC’s US plant for their latest devices.
Labor Shortages Cause Delays
Originally projected to begin production next year, TSMC’s first Phoenix-based fab encountered unforeseen obstacles, primarily stemming from a lack of skilled workers with specialized expertise required for semiconductor-grade facility equipment installation. Chairman Mark Liu expressed the company’s challenges during its Q2 earnings call, attributing the delay to the scarcity of qualified workers in the US.
TSMC’s endeavor to set up a cutting-edge production facility requires a skilled and experienced workforce to ensure seamless operations. However, the shortage of talent in this highly specialized field has led to the implementation of new strategies to mitigate the delay.
Task Force from Taiwan to Boost Progress
In a bid to make up for lost time, TSMC is sending a task force of more than 500 experienced technicians from Taiwan to the US. These experts will be responsible for setting up the specialized equipment and training local workers at the Arizona plant. This move aims to expedite the production process and bridge the skills gap in the American workforce.
While the influx of skilled technicians is expected to boost productivity, the complex installation processes and training may still require some time, ultimately pushing back the start of 4nm chip production.
Impact on Tech Giants
The delayed chip production has substantial implications for tech companies that have planned to source their chips from TSMC’s US plant. Apple, Nvidia, and AMD had all committed to using the production capacity of TSMC to meet the demands of their flagship devices. The postponement could potentially disrupt their product launch timelines and supply chains.
Apple, in particular, had expressed intentions to rely on TSMC’s Arizona plant for chips powering their iPhones and MacBook models. Nvidia and AMD also heavily depend on TSMC for advanced chipsets in their graphics cards and processors. As these companies continue to innovate and release new products, they may now face challenges in meeting consumer demands promptly.
TSMC’s Earnings and Market Perspective
TSMC’s Q2 earnings report showed a decline in revenue of 10 percent (NT$480.8 billion or approximately $15.4 billion USD) and a 23 percent drop in profits (NT$181.80 billion or $5.8 billion) compared to the same period last year. CEO Che Chia Wei cited falling demand for consumer electronics as a contributing factor. He also mentioned that higher inflation and interest rates have impacted end demand in all market segments globally.
Despite the challenges, TSMC remains optimistic about future prospects. The increasing demand for AI-capable chips, used in applications like generative artificial intelligence models, has created a capacity shortage. However, Chairman Liu believes this situation will improve by the end of next year, and TSMC is actively working to double its capacity as quickly as possible.
Future Plans and Government Support
TSMC is working closely with the US government to maximize the subsidies and tax credits available under the CHIPS Act. The Act aims to support and incentivize domestic semiconductor manufacturing, and TSMC is leveraging this support to cover the increased premiums associated with fabricating chips in the US.
The company’s focus on the North American market is evident, with 66 percent of its total net revenue for 2023 derived from customers in the region. This significant market share highlights the importance of domestic semiconductor manufacturing in the US, a priority for the Biden administration.
TSMC’s delay in 4nm chip production in Arizona due to labour shortages poses challenges for both the company and its major clients in the tech industry. As the company endeavours to overcome these obstacles and increase capacity to meet future demands, the attention turns to the success of the task force from Taiwan and the efforts to develop a skilled local workforce in Arizona. The implications of these developments extend beyond TSMC’s operations, affecting the tech giants’ product strategies and the US semiconductor industry’s growth.